Monthly Archives: June 2014

Lasers to Detect Drunk Drivers?

We all know about those red light cameras, speed cameras, and other automated traffic enforcement devices that inconveniently hover over the most convenient intersections. Well, there may soon be a new traffic device that will detect another “no no” on the streets; drunk driving.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing, Polish researchers at the Military University of Technology in Warsaw have developed lasers that detect the presence of alcohol in passing vehicles.

The researchers used “stand-off” detection which identifies substances at a distance. This type of detection is traditionally used for identifying explosive and hazardous materials without getting close to them.

The researchers shot a laser into a vehicle’s windows and through the cabin. The cabin of the test vehicles were filled with an amount of alcohol vapors similar to the amount that a person with 0.10 blood alcohol content would exhale. The laser would then reflect off of a mirror located on the other side of the vehicle and back through the cabin of the vehicle to a photodetector.

The reflected light could then be analyzed by the researchers to determine how much of the original laser beam had been absorbed by the alcohol vapors in the cabin of the vehicle. This allowed the researchers to determine the amount of alcohol in the cabin.

If the device detects alcohol, rather than sending a citation to the driver of the vehicle as in the case of current traffic enforcement devices, an automated photo system would snap a picture of the vehicle and send it to law enforcement waiting down the road a ways. There, the officers could use a breathalyzer to determine if the driver was actually drunk.

In their study, the researchers acknowledged that “countermeasures” could distort the results such as driving with the windows down or driving with an air conditioner on.

Additionally, it is entirely possible that alcohol vapors located within the cabin of a vehicle are coming from drunk passengers or spilled alcohol.

Even if such was the case, would officers be able to stop the car to “check” if it is the driver who’s drunk?

If this device were to be used and operate in this manner, this would eventually be up to the courts to decide. But let’s hope it never gets to that point.

Officers need, at a minimum, reasonable suspicion that a driver is drunk to stop the vehicle on suspicion of DUI. The question becomes whether the information provided by the laser analysis gives the awaiting officers reasonable suspicion that the approaching driver is drunk.

I think not.

If it did, every single designated driver would be stopped because of their drunk passengers. Without other independent corroborating information observed by law enforcement, the reasonable suspicion is based solely on a device that cannot verify what the source of the alcohol is. And it goes without saying that alcohol can come from a number of sources other than a drunk driver.

Forget about the 4th Amendment. A device like this would give officers carte blanche to stop anyone whom the device detected as having some alcohol in the vehicle whether it’s coming from the driver or not.

Judge Punches Out Attorney

I'm not sure whether to feel outraged about this news story yesterday…or roll on the floor laughing.

Brevard Judge Tells Attorney "I'll Beat Your Ass", Allegedly Throws Punches

Brevard County, FL.  June 3 —  Court deputies had to break up a physical fight between a Brevard County judge and a public defender after an argument during a hearing on Monday.

Judge John Murphy is accused of punching veteran public defender Andrew Weinstock after the two had words during court in which Murphy allegedly pressured Weinstock to get his client to waive his right to a speedy trial.

"You know, if I had a rock I would throw it at you right now," Murphy tells Weinstock. "Stop pissing me off. Just sit down."

"You know I'm the public defender. I have a right to be here and I have a right to stand and represent my client," Weinstock said in the video.

The judge allegedly asked Weinstock to come to the back hallway, an area where there are no cameras, which is where the fight broke out.

"If you want to fight, let's go out back and I'll just beat your ass," Murphy tells Weinstock before the two head out of the courtroom.

While Murphy and Weinstock could not be seen, the courtroom camera captured audio of the scuffle and several loud thuds that accompanied it.  

Those inside the courtroom sat uncomfortably and then clapped when the altercation sounded as if it ended.

Weinstock's supervisor told Channel 9 Weinstock thought they would just talk out the problem, but he said there were no words exchanged, just blows thrown by Murphy.

"The attorney said that immediately upon entering the hallway he was grabbed by the collar and began to be struck," said Blaise Trettis, public defender of the 18th Judicial Court. "There was no discussion, no talk, not even time for anything. Just as soon as they're in the hallway, the attorney was grabbed."

Two deputies broke up the fight, and the attorney was immediately reassigned to another area so he and the judge would not have to interact with each other.

After the confrontation, Murphy went back into court and finished ruling over first appearances.

"I will catch my breath eventually," Murphy said. "Man, I'm an old man."

Murphy wasn't arrested, and it doesn't appear charges will be filed. However, the public defender's office said the incident will be reported to the Florida Bar.

This would be funnier if it weren't for the fact that the judge punched out the attorney for refusing to give up his client's constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Remember the old days…when judges were wise, dignified and stately?


Proposed “Gun Violence Restraining Order” Could Affect DUI Offenders

In the wake of the tragic shootings last weekend at UC Santa Barbara, two Democrats in California’s State Assembly have announced their plans to introduce a new gun control measure which could prohibit those who have been convicted of a DUI from owning and carrying a gun.

The “gun violence restraining order,” proposed by Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), would create a system where a legal gun owner can have their guns confiscated if a family member believes they have a mental health problem that the state is not aware of. The “restraining order” could be issued upon gun owners who have passed NICS background checks, registered their firearms with the state, and have not broken any laws.

The idea for the “gun violence restraining order” is part of a recommendation from the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy which also suggests firearm prohibitions for other “risk factors” including “drug or alcohol use (linked to DUI convictions or misdemeanors involving a controlled substance).”

I won’t comment on the “restraining order” as it applies to those who have been identified by family members as having mental health problems, although I do have my opinions.

However, when it comes to prohibiting those who have suffered from a DUI conviction from owning a gun, I have an issue that I will express.

This isn’t the first time that legislators have attempted to place gun ownership restrictions on DUI offenders.

Last year, Democratic Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis introduced SB 755, a bill which would have prevented some DUI offenders from having guns for a period of 10 years. Fortunately, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill saying, “I am not persuaded that it is necessary to prohibit gun ownership on the basis of crimes that are non-felonies, non-violent and do not involve misuse of a firearm.”

Also last year, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy proposed a law that would ban DUI offenders from owning a firearm. Supported by Connecticut democratic senator Martin Looney, the proposed law was intended to prohibit possession of firearms by people who have demonstrated “irresponsible behavior” and a “willingness to break the law.”

I’ve never been the biggest advocate for gun rights, but the suggestion that a DUI offense is a “risk factor” which should prevent someone from owning a gun is absurd.

The Consortium’s recommendation for a prohibition on gun ownership targets groups at heightened risk of violence. According to the Consortium, that includes individuals convicted of two or more DUIs in a five-year period. What is it about a DUI that’s violent? Taking into account DUIs which involve injuries or death, the “violence” involved unintended violence which has nothing to do with the propensity to misuse a gun.

Currently, certain convictions can prevent individuals from possessing a firearm. However, those convictions at least have a causal link to potential future gun violence. Driving under the influence, however, does not.